TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)
1 More
TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)

Untitled (Confidant)

TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)
Untitled (Confidant)
inscribed, dated and signed 'H98 / KUMAR GALLERY TYEB MEHTA / 1962 / Tyebi / '62' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
40 x 49 ¾ in. (101.6 x 126.4 cm.)
Painted in 1962
Kumar Gallery, New Delhi
Coronet Modern Art Gallery, New Delhi
Acquired from the above by Mukund and Neerja Lath, Jaipur
Personal Collection of Mukund Lath, exhibtion catalogue, New Delhi, 1991 (illustrated, unpaginated)
E.S. Nair, 'Collections: Mukund Lath's Cluster of Contemporary Art', Design Digest, Bombay, March 1998, p. 31 (illustrated)
The Window is Open, exhibition catalogue, Mumbai, 1998, p. 11 (illustrated)
Spirit Set Free, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2005, p. 180 (illustrated)
R. Hoskote et.al., Tyeb Mehta: Ideas Images Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005, p. 66 (illustrated)
H. Cotter, 'Tyeb Mehta, Painter of Emerging India, Dies at 84', The New York Times website, 24 January 2006 (illustrated)
Celebration, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2016, p. 195 (illustrated)
S. Tripathi, 'Early works of Tyeb Mehta and the birth of his key motifs…bull and falling figure', Stir World website, 24 July 2020 (illustrated)
New Delhi, Coronet Modern Art Gallery, circa late 1960s
New Delhi, CMC Art Gallery, Personal Collection of Mukund Lath, 12-26 December 1991
Mumbai, The Window, The Window is Open, 21 January - 2 February, 1999

Brought to you by

Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Tyeb Mehta’s Untitled (Confidant) painted in 1962, is an exceptional example of the artist’s early work, painted during a stay in England. Mehta’s encounter with European Art during a 1954 trip to Europe was a watershed moment in his career. It was so impactful that in 1959, he moved with his wife Sakina to London, where he stayed for five years. Supporting himself by working in a morgue by day, Mehta recalls these fundamental, formative years when he was able to experienc the works of the great Old Masters in person every day. “In London, in the 1960s, my wife Sakina and I would visit the National Gallery in the lunch break and sit in front of the Old Masters” (R. Hoskote Tyeb Mehta, Ideas, Images, Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005 p. 356). It was this opportunity for reflection and assimilation that informed the seismic shifts in Mehta’s painting style at the time.

Simultaneously, Mehta encountered the writings of the French Existentialists Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, André Gide and André Malraux, which affirmed his own lifelong pre-occupation with fate and the frailty of human existence. "These gurus of the age informed Tyeb and his contemporaries in their understanding of human vulnerability, the scope of choice available within the limitations imposed by social convention, [and] the degrees of freedom that the individual could wrest from the realm of necessity" (R. Hoskote, Ibid, 2005, p. 6). Carefully selected qualities from the artistic and literary masterpieces around him informed an evolution in Mehta’s style both in terms of form and content.

The delicate flattened forms of the previous decade were replaced with a dynamic, visceral style dominated by muted colors and thick textured impasto. Untitled (Confidant) shows Mehta at his most expressive and emotive. Historian Yashodhara Dalmia describes his process, “[…] the thickly stroked paint would layer the surface with a heavy patina of disquiet. The rendering of colours, of equal tonality and applied in verisimilitude, provided a cohesion, which would yet seem like a fierce interlocking. A compressed battle would ensue also between the figure and the space surrounding it, interpenetrative as two entities, which would coalesce to form an independent relationship, creating a new interpretative reality” (Y. Dalmia, Tyeb Mehta, Triumph of Vision, New Delhi, 2011, p. 5).

These works are almost unrecognizable when compared to the smooth, carefully delineated outlines, and economic use of monochromatic pools of bright color that Mehta adopted the following decade. Celebrated critic George Butcher saw Mehta’s works in London at the time, notign, "He re-creates from the 'inside-out' […] the main composite result of a struggle to make the brush and the palette knife as eloquent at each moment along the way, as the growth of an embryo in the womb" (G. Butcher, 'Two Indian Painters,' The Guardian, 24 June 1962).

Set against an expressive, textured background, Mehta portrays two brothers in arms sitting crosslegged, clothed in thick shawls and contented in a deep embrace. Untitled (Confidant) belongs to a small series of works including Face and Red Shawl which depict contemplative, sensitive figures who emerge like marble monoliths, sculpted from the rough, expressively applied impasto of contrasting reds, browns and blues. Their countenances retain the powerful mask-like expressions of the figures from his earlier works, however, their limbs begin to fracture and distort, a feature that would dominate his work for much of the 1960s. This remarkably large painting of the period is one of the last documented works to be signed ‘Tyebi’, an exceptional example of a master effortlessly transitioning his style into a new decade of experimentation.

More from South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art Including Works by Benodebehari Mukherjee from the Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation

View All
View All